Little to show for devolving public works

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2007, 12:00am

District councillors blame time limitations, elections for lack of finished projects

Three months before the end of a HK$32 million pilot scheme to give district councillors more power to manage regional facilities, only one minor project has been completed: a green avenue along Choi Hung Road in Wong Tai Sin.

The government announced last September that four district councils - Wan Chai, Sai Kung, Wong Tai Sin and Tuen Mun - had been selected for the one-year scheme.

It will extend to 18 districts next year at a cost of HK$300 million a year.

The Wong Tai Sin project involves lining footpaths on Choi Hung Road with flowers and greenery. There is also an improvement project under way near the Lok Fu MTR station.

The four district councils and a legislator shared common concerns over the pilot scheme: the time allowed was too short and coincided with district council elections in November, which undermined the effectiveness of the project.

'Public works are not something you can do quickly. Many projects are still in the pipeline,' Wan Chai district councillor John Tse Wing-ling said.

The district has only managed to hire more staff and organise events such as tai chi and table tennis classes.

Sai Kung district councillor Or Yiu-lam said because the district was a mixed rural and urban area, many projects that involved land development had to be co-ordinated with different government departments besides the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

'We discovered many problems during the pilot scheme. There is confusion of power among different departments at the regional level. This scheme was hastily introduced,' Mr Or said.

Beginning in January, councillors from the four councils were the first to be given a say in how to run libraries, community halls, leisure grounds, swimming pools and beaches.

The package is said to be aimed at strengthening their roles and functions.

The government promised in 1998, when the urban and regional councils were abolished, that many of their council functions would be passed to district councils. But progress has been slow.

The new funding covers extra resources for minor works projects, as well as increases in councillors' payments and office expenses. Each council in the pilot scheme got HK$3 million in extra funding for community projects. A further HK$20 million has been earmarked for minor works.

Tuen Mun District Council vice-chairman Leung Kin-man also said the council spent most of the time screening projects.

'We got HK$8 million total funding this year, and we suddenly received many proposals - up to 50, which cost over HK$50 million,' Mr Leung said.

'We spent most of our time in the past months screening the proposals and we short-listed 14. Before we had plans but no money. And now that we have money, there is an influx of projects.'

Civic Party legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said those problems were predictable because of the tight schedule, adding that two years was a more suitable length for the pilot scheme.

'We can only hope the next term of district councils can do better,' Ms Eu said.

Despite the limitations of the pilot scheme, the four councils agreed it was a good scheme.